Twenty-four Years Behind the Shaft

by John Fitzsimons

Over the years, GLSKA members have logged thousands of hours and paddled thousands of kilometers to investigate almost all parts of the Great Lakes, a treasure that can only be dreamed about by paddlers in other parts of the world. Over the twenty-four year period from 1989 to 2012, the membership of GLSKA has probably turned over at least twice and likely more. With this change in membership, that has remained nearly constant in terms of numbers, there has no doubt been a change in interest in terms of the destinations for trips and their duration for both trip leaders and those participating in their trips.
As part of a process to re-evaluate the current club interest in terms of trips it is important to understand where we have been as a way of determining where we want to go. Towards this end an analysis of past trips was made in terms of destinations and the duration of trips and any trends. This column is based on information found in the first 24 years of Qayaq, which are now available online¹.

Of 345 trips taken over the twenty four year period 1989 to 2012, the majority (88%) were taken on the Great Lakes. Most of the remaining trips were on smaller inland lakes including Lake Simcoe, Lac Kipawa, Opeongo, Guelph, Joe, Scugog, Temagami, Matagami, Rice, and Mill Lakes, as well a number of rivers including the St. Lawrence, Pickerel, Nonquon and Rankin Rivers, and Minesing Swamp and the Rideau Canal. Of the 345 trips, a little over a third (36%) of trips were of one day’s duration. Of the Great Lakes trips, the greatest proportion of trips occurred on Georgian Bay (61%) followed by Lake Ontario (15%), Lake Huron (13%), Lake Superior (6%), and Lake Erie (4%). No club trips have occurred on Lake Michigan.

Based on the number of times visited over the 24 year period, for Georgian Bay some trips were definitely preferred including Beausoleil, Franklin, and Mink and McCoy Islands, and Fathom Five and Massassauga Parks. Of the trips taken on Georgian Bay, in increasing popularity were four-day (8%), five to ten days (10%), three-day (14%), and one-day (15%) trips with the most popular trip being two days in duration (55%). Most club trips occurred in the central and northern sections of Georgian Bay with relatively little activity in the southern section.

On Lake Huron some trips were definitely preferred including Fishing and Lyal Islands. Of the trips taken 62% were of one day duration while far fewer were of two to four days (25%) or five or more days (19%) duration. Most activity was concentrated along the western edge of the Bruce Peninsula with parts of Lake Huron including the southern section, the North Channel, and the far northern section in the area of Manitoulin Island having had little club activity.

On Lake Ontario some trips were definitely preferred including Hamilton Harbour and Toronto Islands. Of the trips taken 93% were of one day duration while far fewer were of two days. There has been little interest in overnight trips on Lake Ontario reflecting perhaps the small number of islands suitable for camping; most of which are located well offshore and limited to the eastern basin.

The record for Lake Superior, the largest and most distant lake, indicated some trips were definitely preferred including Pukaskwa, Silver Islet to Rossport, and Slate Islands. Of the trips taken, none were of one day duration. In increasing popularity were five to six day (22%), eleven to twelve day (28%) and nine to ten day (50%) trips. Trips on Lake Superior tended to be intermittent over the twenty four year period likely reflecting the large commitment of time and resources for organizers and participants.

Lake Erie was by far the least preferred destination for the club with all trips one day in duration. The preferred destinations were Long Point and Port Maitland. All activity was concentrated in the eastern section with no activity in the central or western sections.

Looking to the future there are several areas of the Great Lakes which have received little attention from the club but which could offer interesting possibilities. These include the Duck Islands in northern Lake Huron, the Apostle Islands in southern Lake Superior and the many islands of northeastern Lake Michigan.

The Duck Islands are a group of mostly sand islands of various size with limited private ownership located at increasing distances off of southwestern Manitoulin Island.

The Apostle Islands located offshore of Bayfield, Wisconsin are mostly rocky and fully publicly owned. The area includes many spectacular sea caves of varying size.

The many islands in northeastern Lake Michigan located just offshore of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and Charlevoix/Petoskey are of sand, some containing dunes over 150 m high.

The popularity of northern Georgian Bay to the club membership is readily evident. The large number of islands in a relatively pristine environment with relatively little human habitation, unlimited freshwater resources and spectacular camping sites is unparalleled anywhere in the world. In fact the area has been designated a world biosphere site. With this popularity not only within GLSKA but other clubs and kayak out-fitters as well as a myriad of other user groups, there is a collective need to respect the fragile resources of the bay. These waters are coming under increasing pressure from invasive species like zebra mussels and phragmites, indiscriminate nutrient additions that can lead to eutrophication while on land. The effects of periodic drought and excessive foot traffic can limit or reduce growth of natural cover that can take many decades to become re-established in soils that can be mere centimetres thick.

Look for a survey of the membership in the Spring Qayaq to determine interest in the club for one and multi-day trips as well what destinations are preferred. In this survey you will have a chance to indicate your favourite destination or perhaps a new destination you would like to see the club consider.

¹ Note by webmaster: As of December 2014, not all issues of Qayaq have been scanned and converted to .pdf  files yet. An index of all Qayaq articles available online is available here. Trip reports organized by destination, are available here.

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